If you're on the hunt for the best gym wear, know this - ethical and sustainable sports brands should be on your radar by now. As the latest IPCC report showed, the time is now to combat global warming - we might not have long left.
Case in point: 10,000 items of clothing get sent to landfill every five minutes.
While not all of the best activewear brands are doing their bit for both people and planet, some are going above and beyond to be conscious in all areas, making sure their workers are paid fair wages, their fabrics are sustainable and sourced locally, and their supply chains are short.
Here at Marie Claire UK, sustainability is at the core of what we do, which is why we always encourage you to shop ethically where possible. If you feel you can't afford to invest in more sustainable brands, shopping less is also a great way to reduce your carbon footprint.
Protecting our planet has never been more pressing. Without further ado...
Sustainable sports brands: your guide
According to Emma Foster-Geering, Vivobarefoot's director of sustainability, being an eco-friendly brand means setting goals to restore and regenerate human health and our natural world. "There is simply no other alternative in a present where we and our ecosystems are so sick," she explains.
Historically, activewear hasn't been very environmentally friendly largely due to the fabric used, which is often synthetic, non-recycled and non-biodegradable. Synthetic materials often require a lot of energy and water to produce.
Luckily, times have changed. Independent brands are carving a niche by focusing on ethical practices such as a short supply chain, ethical labour, and innovating with natural fabrics such as vegan leather made from plants or natural rubber.
Bigger brands are following suit, with labels such as adidas developing new fabrics from ocean waste and investing in better cotton. This isn't to say all their practice is 100% there yet, but that steps are certainly being made in the right direction.
Why is shopping sustainably important?
Because, in short, the organisations and regulations that govern them are driven by consumer opinion, according to Foster-Geering.
"By shopping sustainable, we send a collective message to both that products which solve important environmental and ethical problems are what we want. We know sustainability is important, but what we need next is a lot more scientific rigour and transparency around what that really means," she goes on.
Which brands are sustainable?
Many sustainable sports brands offer a great range of workout leggings, sports bras, matching gym sets and running shoes, enhancing your workout and promising to have less of an impact on the planet, too. No matter your budget or training plan, there are a load of brands that offer products spanning luxe Tencel yoga bodysuits to vegan leather trainers.
"More and more companies are marketing their products as sustainable, but arguably the production of items made transparently in environmental and ethically positive supply chains with strong circular solutions remains extremely low. The shift to "eco" thinking has been overwhelming - hopefully, the practical application of this in the industry will follow," says Foster-Geering.
If you're not sure, always check on the B Corp directory if a brand is certified - this means they've undergone three years of rigorous testing to ensure they meet the highest ethical practices. Similarly, sites like Good on You are a great start for seeing in real-time what a company is doing to better their practice.
Still not sure? Foster-Geering reckons that the five pointers at the bottom of this article are the most important things to be looking out for.
Keep scrolling to shop MC's edit of the best sustainable sports brands for a more conscious workout.
Sustainable sports brands to shop now: 15 top picks
USP? This is the lowest CO2 running trainer in the world. Fun fact: we wrote a whole article on how these shoes have the lowest carbon footprint of all running shoes - and they're also pretty great to run in. A significant improvement on Allbirds' former iteration, I found them to be light, springy and responsive. Do note, though: they did take some time to break in and caused a few blisters along the way.
Read my full Allbird Tree Flyer review, here.
Did you know? Bamboo absorbs five times more carbon than hardwood trees, needs half the land cotton needs to produce the same amount of fibre and doesn’t need irrigation or pesticides, either. I'm a big fan of these leggings - when testing, I found them to be soft, supportive and sweat-wicking. Performance-focused and planet-friendly? I'm in.
Did you know? The Impala is the lightest trainer VEJA's ever created. On the sustainability front, the company's a certified B Corp. On their website, they clearly break down how the trainers are made, how they pay their workers, and how as a company they're working towards building a better tomorrow. When testing, I found them to be a great all-rounder - stable enough for gym sessions but springy enough for 5km to 10km runs, too. Plus, they look great for office wear.
If you're into hiking, you'll have heard of Arc'teryx - a certified B Corp brand with performance and sustainability at the core of what they do.
This jacket is ideal for hiking or even rainy winter runs. It's been upcycled from end-of-the-roll fabric that would otherwise have been wasted and is breathable, pack-away-able, and lightweight. Winner, winner.
Keen swimmer but also keen to invest in a costume that doesn't contribute to plastic waste or ocean pollution? Stay Wild is about as sustainable as it gets when it comes to swimwear - all products are made in London from 100% ECONYL® and 100% recycled plastic thread. Impressive.
Another certified B Corp is Vivobarefoot, and the Primus Lite is their hero trainer. A minimal design which comes in a range of neutral colourways, the shoes do take some getting used to but are all designed to help you walk in the most natural way possible. As they explain on their site, "Cramming the human foot into a modern shoe - cushioned, narrow and rigid - negates its natural strength and function. All Vivobarefoot footwear is designed to be wide, thin and flexible: as close to barefoot as possible. They promote your foot's natural strength and movement. Allowing you to feel the ground beneath your feet."
One of the highest-scoring B Corp brands with an impressive rating of 151.4, Patagonia acknowledge that everything humans make has an impact on the planet. That's why 83% of their clothes are Fair Trade-certified (this is more than any other apparel brand).
These shorts are made from recycled polyester and built to last, meaning less waste all around.
From packaging that is 100% recycled and recyclable, to leggings made from 79% recycled polyester and 21% spandex, to recycled fishing nets and other waste using ECONYL® yarn, or tees and tanks that are 100% cupro (delicate fibre made from waste the cotton industry leaves behind), Girlfriend Collective aims to prioritise sustainability throughout its products. Not to mention, they also offer inclusive sizing, with items available from an XXS to 6XL.
You'll have heard of TALA, Grace Beverley's sustainable gym wear brand. Our favourite bit of kit from the brand is their SkinLuxe™ Racer Strap Sports Bra. It's made from a fabric blend of 76% recycled Nylon and 24% LYCRA® Sport, which is a sustainable and feels buttery-smooth to wear.
As soon as you click on a product on the Organic Basics website, you can see the amount of carbon it took to produce an item - like these Active Leggings, for example, which took 4.41kg of CO2 to produce. Transparency is at the heart of what they do, and all of their items are ethically made from recycled materials. They're rated as "great" on the Good For You website, too.
So good we featured them twice. That's because outdoor clothing brand Patagonia has been focused on the environment since launching back in the 70s. To limit ecological impact, Patagonia focuses on clothing that can last for generations or can be recycled so the materials in them remain in use. They also take action on the most pressing environmental issues facing the planet, from supporting youth fighting against oil drilling to suing the former US president.
These trousers are great support for sweaty workouts, yoga flows, or wearing to work - a great all-rounder.
Finisterre became the first European surf brand to be awarded a B Corp back in 2018, with sustainability long at the core of what the brand does. This Merino wool tank is perfect for outdoor adventures and promises to be both comfortable and practical thanks to its ergonomic panels and brushed recycled fabric. Stylish and sustainable.
This stylish sportswear brand specialises in understated pieces. Made with bio-based luxury textiles, they use premium raw materials that are eco-sustainable, plus production processes with a limited impact on the environment, to boot.
Ethically produced, Feel Fit collections are made from high-quality ECONYL® (regenerated plastic waste). Available in sizes to fit UK 6 to UK 22, the brand also supports global tree planting charity Tree Sisters with every item sold.
They have some noteworthy sustainability credentials, using 100% organic cotton, recycled cotton and repurposed nylon, not to mention their store is eco-powered by their own indoor spin bikes. Fun fact: 74% of the energy they make from the workouts is directed back to the local grid, making them a carbon-neutral company.
This UK label focuses on luxury, sustainably-aware athleisure apparel, using a high percentage of recycled and bio-based materials. The clothing comprises sweat-wicking, anti-bacterial, breathable fabrics, and the High Neck Sweater is made from Br4, Brugnoli’s bio-based fabric for zero compromises between environment and performance.
What should I be looking for in a sustainable sports brand?
- Company: Make sure the company who makes the kit has credentials, aka are they B Corp certified? Do they publish a sustainability report? Do they use catch phrases like ‘sustainable’ ‘vegan’ ‘ethical’ ‘responsibly sourced’ without backing up how in readily available policies?
- Product materials: Are the product materials from renewable, natural sources or biosynthetic feedstocks?
- Product design: Does the world really need this new product to exist? Or it is just something trendy they sell to make money?
- Chemicals: Does the product contain any hazardous chemicals listed on the EU REACH or ZDHC MRSL lists?
- Value chain: Can you see what farms and factories made these products and do they provide end-of-life solutions for product repair and return?What is the Brand strategy on sustainability? Is it integrated with their business goals? Are employees incentives to achieve sustainability goals?
Marie Claire Newsletter
Celebrity news, beauty, fashion advice, and fascinating features, delivered straight to your inbox!
Ally Head is Marie Claire UK's Health, Sustainability, and Relationships Editor, eight-time marathoner, and Boston Qualifying runner. Day-to-day, she works across site strategy, features, and e-commerce, reporting on the latest health updates, writing the must-read health and wellness content, and rounding up the genuinely sustainable and squat-proof gym leggings worth *adding to basket*. She regularly hosts panels and presents for things like the MC Sustainability Awards, has an Optimum Nutrition qualification, and saw nine million total impressions on the January 2023 Wellness Issue she oversaw, with health page views up 98% year on year, too. Follow Ally on Instagram for more or get in touch.